Sunday , March 3 2024
Judges seek "an audacious imagination that takes readers to undiscovered countries of the mind."

Surprise Selections (and Omissions) in Man Booker Shortlist

There are years in which the shortlist for the Man Booker prize, Britain's pre-eminent fiction award, consists of the "usual suspects", and there's an air of Buggin's turn about it. Not this year.

The only household name among the six selected books is Sarah Waters, nominated for her widely acclaimed (and widely read) The Night Watch, about relationships, gay and straight, during the Second World War. She has, almost inevitably, been installed as the favourite by the bookmakers. Also in the northern contingent is M.J. Hyland's Carry Me Down, a coming of age story, and Mother's Milk, a portrait of a dysfunctional wealthy family by Edward St Aubyn.

Otherwise, the shortlist for the prize (which is open to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers) has a strongly international flavour, featuring Hisham Matar's semi-autobiographical first novel about childhood in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya In The Country Of Men; The Inheritance Of Loss, the Indian writer Kiran Desai's cross-continental saga roaming across New York and India; and the veteran Australian writer Kate Grenville's The Secret River, which is set in a 19th-century penal colony.

The chair of the judges, Hermione Lee, said they had been looking for "a distinctive original voice, an audacious imagination that takes readers to undiscovered countries of the mind, a strong power of story-telling and a historical truthfulness". She added: "Each of these novels creates a world you inhabit without question or distrust while you are reading, and a mood, an atmosphere, which lasts long after the reading is over".

Among the hotly tipped entries that missed out were the double Booker-winner Peter Carey for Theft: A Love Story; David Mitchell's Black Swan Green; and, Andrew O'Hagan's Be Near Me. The Irish writer John Banville won the 2005 award for The Sea, but his  entry this year, a thriller written under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, did not make the longlist.

The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced on October 10. 

About Natalie Bennett

Natalie blogs at Philobiblon, on books, history and all things feminist. In her public life she's the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.

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